Sunday, July 16, 2000
A man visiting his aged parents was impressed with the tender way his father addressed his
mother. Whenever he spoke to her, or responded to her comments to him,
he always used words like "baby," "honey," "sweetheart," or "darling."
The son thought this was wonderful, that after more than 50 years of marriage, his
father spoke so tenderly to his mother. After awhile, when his mother was not in the room,
the son complimented his father for using such lovely terms of endearment.
A bit embarrassed, the old man replied, "Son, I have to use those pet names
because for the past two months I have not been able to remember her name."
The loss of memory is actually not funny, though we may laugh about it and kid each other when it happens. Sometimes it can be quite tragic. Our friend Tom began slowly to lose his memory. One night his wife crawled into bed beside him, as it had been their custom for more than 40 years of marriage. He looked at her and said, "Who the devil are you?" Shocked, she replied, "I am your wife of course." To which he responded, "I don't know you; get out of my bed!" Their relationship went downhill after that as the man lost all awareness of his identity. He died without regaining it.
During the years of our lives most of us have the wonderful capacity to remember, and the equally wonderful capacity to forget. To live well there are things we must remember in order to be successful. But there are also things we must remember to forget if there is to be peace in our valley.
We must learn to forget the pain that occurred when someone hurt our feelings. To live is to be hurt from time to time, and often by those who love us, so we must be willing to forget those occasions and move on with our lives.
Unless we forget such pain we will soon harbor resentment, which can turn so easily into bitterness. Someone expressed this danger with this poignant comment: "Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die." Simply put, resentment can kill you.
When Lincoln was discussing certain men he wished to promote during his presidency, an aide reminded him that one of the men had been especially critical of Lincoln. Asked if he had forgotten the man's criticism, Lincoln replied: "I remember deciding to forget about what he said." Because Lincoln could forget the man's faultfinding, he was able to recognize the man's gifts and recommend him for service. He refused to allow himself to be blinded by pain or resentment.
If we are unwilling to forget the slights and insults of others, we may allow ourselves to embrace anger, another attitude closely associated with resentment. Anger is another killer of the human spirit.
Recently the American Heart Association released the results of an exhaustive study on anger. This research involved monitoring 13,000 adults for six years. One of the key findings of this research is that a person with a propensity for anger is nearly three times more likely to have a heart attack than calmer persons. This ratio remained true even after researchers took into account other major risk factors such as smoking, obesity, and high blood pressure.
Other research at Duke University, led by psychiatrist Redford Williams, reveals that 20% of American adults have a susceptibility to anger high enough to threaten their health. So it is clear that our physical health can be positively affected by our willingness to forget the offensive behavior that produces anger in ourselves.
It behooves us, then, to take a good, honest look inside our memory. Are there things tucked away there that we should throw out? Are we holding on to hurts that happened years ago? Are these things ruining our health by producing unhealthy anger and resentment?
Every week some wonderful guys come by our homes driving what we call garbage trucks. Perhaps there are some painful memories we should let them pick up this week and haul away, out of our lives.
If we are wise, there are indeed some things we must remember to forget. Only then can we make true what Robert Browning said, "The best is yet to be!"